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Spy of the First Person by Sam Shepard, Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, US $18.00, Pp 96, December 2017, ISBN 978-0525521563


Pulitzer Prize-winner Sam Shepard wrote more than fifty-five plays and three story collections. He was a finalist for the W. H. Smith Literary Award for his story collection Great Dream of Heaven. Shepard was a rare writer who was also an actor. As an actor, he was cast in more than sixty films and received an Oscar nomination in 1984 for ‘The Right Stuff.’ He also received the Gold Medal for Drama for the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame. He died in 2017. In the year before he died, he wrote his last book which is published under the title of Spy of the First Person. We are reproducing some of the excerpts from it so that you can have a better idea of Shepard’s last work.

Sam Shepard writes, “I’m not normally a suspicious person. I don’t go around looking over my shoulder for surprises. But I have the sense – I can’t help having the sense – that someone is watching me. Someone wants to know something. Someone wants to know something about me that I don’t even know myself. I can feel him getting closer and closer. I can hear breathing. I can tell he’s male by the smell of his breath. I don’t know what he wants. He gets more and more curious about my comings and goings. About me. He seems to want to know something about my origins.”

Later, he poses some questions to himself, “Why is he watching me? I can’t understand that. Nothing seems to be working now. Hands. Arms. Legs. Noting. I just lie here. Waiting for someone to find me. I just look up at the sky. I can smell him close by.” He then goes on to describe the other, “I can’t help feeling a similarity between him and me. I don’t know what it is. Sometimes it feels like we’re the same person. A lost twin. The eyebrows. The chin. The twitch of an ear. The hands in pockets. The way the eyes look confident and lost at the same time.”

The storyteller in Shepard comes out on several occasions in the book. He writes, “Once upon a time there was a Pancho Villa who came from Durango, Old Mexico, which at that time was the very end of the Santa Fe Trail. Or the beginning of it. Depending on which way you were going. In other words the Santa Fe Trail sort of began around St. Louis Missouri. If you were American that is. This was in the days when America was very isolated. Surrounded by enemies…” Pancho Villa occupies his mind for some time. He continues, “I don’t like the idea of him talking about Pancho Villa. Whether he overheard it or heard it through gossip or comic books he’s got things wrong. To me, the story of Pancho Villa is completely private and belongs to the world of fable. Why should he be poking his nose into information that’s private? It has nothing to do with him. It’s not his story to tell.”

Spy of the First Person is by and about a dying artist. It shows how Shepard felt and what he thought of in his last days. It is naturally sad. At times, you feel Shepard is meditating about the world and life. If you have read and liked other books of Sam Shepard, you will like Spy of the First Person. It will help you understand the man, writer, and actor he was. His prose is as beautiful and enjoyable as in his other books.

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